There is much interest in the Alfa Romeo driver this season, not least because he is the only current rookie in the sport. But the 23-year-old is also the first Chinese racer ever to take part in the series, and is helping to bring more attention to F1 as a whole from his homeland.
He was still very young when he made the tough decision to leave, despite having begun karting as an eight-year-old living near Shanghai. Aged just 12 when he migrated to the UK, it was a move he made solely to pursue the dream he is now living.
Zhou has now revealed that it was not Hamilton or Schumacher who he revered as a youngster watching F1, but another world champion. Asked by AS which driver he followed most closely in his youth, he did not hesitate in answering: ” Fernando Alonso.”
He added: “I was just more of a fan. In China there was a lot of support for Ferrari and Michael [Schumacher], but I was a fan of Fernando because of how he fought Michael on the track.”
Not only is Zhou living his dream of being an F1 driver, he also gets to do so alongside his childhood hero who, aged 40, is still competing in the sport. As a former member of the Alpine academy, the Chinese had the chance to learn from Alonso himself when he was testing with the team ahead of his return to F1.
“When he arrived it was a very special moment for me, it is difficult to imagine that you will meet with Fernando or that you’re going to get in his car, like I did in the first free practice in Austria 2021,” Zhou added. “He was my childhood idol.
“Getting in the car after what’s happened all these years… and it’s crazy, because he’s still here. It was a special moment. But now I am not very emotional, we fight on the same grid. We are rivals, although we get along well off the track.
“I learned more or less what I now learn from Valtteri [Bottas] – a very, very fast driver with a lot of experience. They understand and use information off the track, he has very efficient feedback and is very clear when it comes to what he asks for. For me, it is more difficult to find a way to adjust the ‘set-up’ to what I want, while they are much clearer and more direct. Those Renault tests were a great experience, I learned a lot.”